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Desert Diary



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Many groups of organisms are named for typical characteristics, though since the names usually come from the Latin or Greek, that may not be apparent. For example, take the Chondrichthyes, the sharks and relatives. The name comes from "chondros", cartilage, and "ichthys", fish. Thus sharks are "cartilage fish", and this is a good description because, unlike the Osteichthyes (bony fish), the skeletal parts are of cartilage, not bone.

Those pesky flies that insist on lighting on sweaty skin in the heat of the desert day, and the vicious mosquitos that feed on blood during the cooler times, both belong to the Diptera, meaning two (di) wings (ptera). But other winged insects have four wings. What happened to the second pair? As it happens, they're still there—after a fashion. The back pair of wings have evolved into a pair of small, club-shaped structures—the halteres‐that vibrate rapidly during flight, acting somewhat like miniature gyroscopes that stabilize flight and allow for aerial acrobats. Now you know one reason why those darn flies are so hard to swat!

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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



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